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RAS PN09/34 (NAM 21): Chandra Shows Shocking Impact of Galaxy Jet

Last Updated on Monday, 29 March 2010 15:35
Published on Wednesday, 22 April 2009 00:00
A survey by the Chandra X-ray observatory has revealed in detail, for the first time, the effects of a shock wave blasted through a galaxy by powerful jets of plasma emanating from a supermassive black hole at the galactic core. The observations of Centaurus A, the nearest galaxy that contains these jets, have enabled astronomers to revise dramatically their picture of how jets affect the galaxies in which they live. The results will be presented on Wednesday 22nd April at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Hatfield by Dr Judith Croston of the University of Hertfordshire.

A team led by Dr Croston and Dr Ralph Kraft, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the USA, used very deep X-ray observations from Chandra to get a new view of the jets in Centaurus A. The jets inflate large bubbles filled with energetic particles, driving a shock wave through the stars and gas of the surrounding galaxy. By analysing in detail the X-ray emission produced where the supersonically expanding bubble collides with the surrounding galaxy, the team were able to show for the first time that particles are being accelerated to very high energies at the shock front, causing them to produce intense X-ray and gamma-ray radiation. Very high-energy gamma-ray radiation was recently detected from Centaurus A for the first time by another team of researchers using the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) telescope in Namibia.


"Although we expect that galaxies with these shock waves are common in the Universe, Centaurus A is the only one close enough to study in such detail," said Dr Croston. "By understanding the impact that the jet has on the galaxy, its gas and stars, we can hope to understand how important the shock waves are for the life cycles of other, more distant galaxies."


The powerful jets are found in only a small fraction of galaxies but are most common in the largest galaxies, which are thought to have the biggest black holes. The jets are believed to be produced near to a central supermassive black hole, and travel close to the speed of light for distances of up to hundreds of thousands of light years. Recent progress in understanding how galaxies evolve suggests that these jet-driven bubbles, called radio lobes, may play an important part in the life cycle of the largest galaxies in the Universe.


Energetic particles from radio galaxies may also reach us directly as cosmic rays hitting the Earth's atmosphere. Centaurus A is thought to produce many of the highest energy cosmic rays that arrive at the Earth. The team believe that their results are important for understanding how such high-energy particles are produced in galaxies as well as for understanding how massive galaxies evolve.

The results of this research will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

IMAGES
An image can be found at:


Caption: The image shows in red the X-ray emission produced by high-energy particles accelerated at the shock front where Centaurus A's expanding radio lobe (shown in blue) collides with the surrounding galaxy. (In the top-left corner X-ray emission from close to the central black hole, and from the X-ray jet extending in the opposite direction can also be seen.)


NOTES FOR EDITORS

Chandra X-ray Observatory

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, one of NASA’s four great observatories, was launched by the Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999. It is designed to observe X-rays from high-energy regions of the universe, such as the remnants of exploded stars. It was named in honor of Indian-American physicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

For further details, see: http://chandra.harvard.edu/about/index.html

Centaurus A

Centaurus A (NGC 5128) is the nearest active galaxy to Earth. It is located about 14 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. Its structure suggests that it is an example of an elliptical galaxy that has been disrupted by a collision with a smaller spiral galaxy.

THE EUROPEAN WEEK OF ASTRONOMY AND SPACE SCIENCE

More than 1000 astronomers and space scientists will gather at the University of Hertfordshire for the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS), incorporating the 2009 Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting (RAS NAM 2009) and the European Astronomical Society Joint Meeting (JENAM 2009). The meeting runs from 20th to 23rd April 2009.


EWASS is held in conjunction with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (MIST) meetings. The conference includes scientific sessions organised by the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA).

EWASS is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield.

THE ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

CONTACTS:
Dr Judith Croston
Research Fellow
Centre for Astrophysics Research
Science and Technology Research Institute University of Hertfordshire College Lane Hatfield, AL10 9AB United Kingdom
Tel: 01707 284942
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.